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Nov 21 2012

Needy Airmen to Receive Free ‘Turkeys for Christ’ from Law-Breaking Evangelical Slaughterhouse

The holiday season is upon us, and one thing that means for us at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is that we’ll be getting reports of alleged improper promotions of religion. We’ll check out these reports, and, as always, we’ll find some cases where there are legitimate issues that need to be addressed and others where no lines are being crossed. But that’s not what this post is about. This is about something that started out as a routine look at a possible holiday-related military religious issue, but ended up leading one of MRFF’s research volunteers to stumble upon one of the worst cases of hypocrisy from a self-proclaimed “Christ-centric” company that I’ve ever seen.

A little background:

It’s a pretty common practice in the military for officers and senior NCOs to do things during the holiday season to help those on their bases who are struggling financially — typically the young enlisted service members who have families to support. Many bases set up “angel trees,” for example, where people can take a tag off the tree with the name of a child to buy a gift for. (Incidentally, MRFF gets a lot of emails about these “angel trees” every year, but we’ve never once found any of them being used to inappropriately promote religion.)

One such holiday program is at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, where the First Sergeant’s Council runs a Thanksgiving basket program, which this year will provide 300 young airmen with families with turkeys and everything else for their Thanksgiving dinners. A story about this Thanksgiving basket program on the base’s website raised a red flag, not because of what the First Sergeant’s Council is doing, but because of who this year’s turkeys are being donated by — a Christian ministry called FLOCK, which stands for “Faithful Love Offering for Christ’s Kingdom.”

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with a religious organization donating things for our troops, and there are many good organizations out there that do this out of nothing but genuine generosity and support for the troops. There are others, however, that have ulterior motives, and that’s where MRFF steps in. We check to make sure that donations like this don’t come with any evangelical strings attached, as they unfortunately sometimes do.

So, Mark, a research volunteer for MRFF, began our routine procedure of checking out this turkey-donating ministry to see if they have a track record of using their donations as opportunities to proselytize. As long as Mark didn’t find any indication that the airmen at Whiteman Air Force Base were going to be getting turkeys that were accompanied by a note saying “This turkey brought to you by your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” or something like that, that would have been the end of it. And Mark’s quick checking-out of this FLOCK ministry actually was the end of it as far as it being a typical MRFF issue goes, but that was only because what he found out about this ministry was much worse than anything he expected. At this point Mark emailed MRFF president Mikey Weinstein and myself to let us know what he had found.

The article on the Whiteman Air Force Base website had said that the FLOCK ministry was run by House of Raeford which is one of the country’s largest poultry companies. It is also a very Christian company, with a CEO who started a ministry “dedicated to bringing youth and people of our nation to a personal salvation experience with Jesus Christ through music, testimony, and God’s word,” chaplains at all of its facilities, and of course, its FLOCK ministry.

News releases on the company’s website tout all the wonderful charitable things this nice Christian company does. Also touted is the company’s unbelievable safety record, with press releases like the one from September 2012 announcing that one of its facilities had reached the milestone of “one million man hours without a lost time accident.”

How is it that this company is able to receive awards for things like “OSHA recordable rates less than the industry average?” Well, as an investigation of this company by the Charlotte Observer uncovered, it’s through the unconscionable way these nice Christians have found to get around having to report things like “lost time accidents.” They simply force injured employees to keep working. If the injured employee returns to work the same day, it’s not a lost time accident and the company doesn’t have to report it.

We’re not talking about minor injuries here. One of the cases uncovered by the Charlotte Observer was that of a woman whose arm got caught in a conveyor belt. Her arm was broken and part of one of her fingers was cut off. Now, an injury that serious would certainly put an employee out of work for a while, right? Well, not at House of Raeford. That would make it a “lost time accident” that would have to be reported as such. So, this injured woman was forced to return to work for the next shift. Since she didn’t miss a complete shift, her broken arm and amputated finger didn’t have to be reported as a “lost time accident.” Problem solved.

From the Charlotte Observer’s 2008 report on its investigation:

The company has compiled misleading injury reports and has defied regulators as it satisfies a growing appetite for America’s most popular meat. And employees say the company has ignored, intimidated or fired workers who were hurt on the job.

House of Raeford officials say they follow the law and strive to protect workers.

But company and government records and interviews with more than 120 current and former employees show:

• House of Raeford’s 800-worker plant in West Columbia, S.C., reported no musculoskeletal disorders over four years. Experts say that’s inconceivable. MSDs, including carpal tunnel syndrome, are the most common work-related injuries afflicting poultry workers.

• Its Greenville, S.C., plant has boasted of a five-year safety streak with no lost-time accidents. But the plant kept that streak alive by bringing injured employees back to the factory hours after surgery.

• The company has broken the law by failing to record injuries on government safety logs, a top OSHA official says.

• At four of the company’s largest Carolinas plants, company first-aid attendants and supervisors have dismissed some workers’ requests to see a doctor — even when they complained of debilitating pain.

Companies have a financial incentive to hide injuries. Ignoring them lowers costs associated with compensating injured workers for medical care and lost wages.

Also, the government rewards companies that report low injury rates by inspecting them less often. And regulators rarely check whether companies are reporting accurately.

But James Mabe, the manager of that 800-worker House of Raeford plant in West Columbia, S.C that reported no musculoskeletal disorders over four years, had an explanation for the apparent immunity of the company’s employees from these injuries that are so common for everyone else in the industry — Hispanics are good with knives! Seriously, this Mabe guy actually told the Observer: “Hispanics are very good with their hands and working with a knife. We’ve gotten less complaints,” and “It’s more like a natural movement for them.” Yep, it’s not because all those immigrants who make up so much of House of Raeford’s workforce don’t report injuries for fear of losing their jobs or getting deported — it’s that Hispanic people don’t get injured because they’re just naturally good with knives!

The article from Whiteman Air Force Base about the House of Raeford FLOCK ministry’s donation for those Thanksgiving baskets says that when “the first sergeants started calling companies to get an estimate for 300 turkeys and Thanksgiving supplies, some were discouraged by the prices they were receiving – upwards of $13,000.” So, what’s $13,000 to House of Raeford? Well, that’s only a little more than the $12,400 fine they paid last month for their latest violation of child labor laws, when they were caught having two teenagers operating an electric knife on a chicken processing line.

Federal and state labor laws prohibit anyone under 18 from working on a poultry processing line, another law that those nice Christians at House of Raeford don’t seem to think applies to them. According to the Charlotte Observer, this was not the first time House of Raeford has been caught using underage workers. During a 2008 immigration raid of the company’s plants, federal officials found six juveniles working on the chicken line, including a 15-year-old who was working 10-hour shifts. During its investigation, the Observer was told by current and former workers that “the company frequently hired underage workers” and six supervisors said that “top managers allowed the hiring to secure cheap, compliant labor.”

And then there’s all the environmental law-breaking. In August 2012, House of Raeford was convicted of 10 counts of knowingly violating the Clean Water Act for sending contaminated wastewater to a municipal treatment plant in Raeford. According to the Department of Justice: “House of Raeford allowed plant employees to bypass the facility’s pretreatment system and send its untreated wastewater directly to the city of Raeford’s wastewater treatment plant, without notifying city officials. In addition, House of Raeford failed to prevent employees from sending thousands of gallons of wastewater into a pretreatment system that did not have the capacity to adequately treat the wastewater before it was discharged to the city plant. The untreated wastewater that was discharged directly to the city plant was contaminated with waste from processing operations, including blood, grease and body parts from slaughtered turkeys. A House of Raeford former employee admitted that the facility would continue to “kill turkeys” despite being warned that the unauthorized bypasses had an adverse impact on the city’s wastewater treatment plant.”

According to a 2008 Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety hearing, “House of Raeford has repeatedly been cited by State and Federal occupational safety and health agencies: 130 serious safety violations since 2000, among the most of any U.S. poultry company.” And it appears that the violations continue, as with this one from June 2011 where OSHA found that House of Raeford “did not furnish to each of his employees conditions of employment and a place of employment free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees, in that employees were exposed to extended exposure to anhydrous ammonia due to improperly maintained/fitted doors where the broken doors allowed emergency ventilation of the atmosphere in the engine rooms to be reduced.”

But amazingly, in spite of having no regard for federal laws, House of Raeford has received nearly $100 million in government contracts from the Department of Agriculture from the Department of Agriculture from 2006 to 2012.

And now, of course, this “Christ-centric” bunch of law-breaking employee abusers is getting some good press from the Air Force because of those 300 turkeys their FLOCK ministry is donating.

Would that first sergeant at Whiteman Air Force Base still be “amazed how generous FLOCK was by providing free turkeys” if he knew how the workers who processed those turkeys are treated by the hypocrites who are supplying this “Faithful Love Offering for Christ’s Kingdom”?

34 comments

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  1. 1
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    There’s nothing wrong, of course, with a religious organization donating things for our troops,

    Animals are not things. A turkey isn’t a thing.

  2. 2
    Tenebras

    A corpse is a thing.

  3. 3
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Good company!

  4. 4
    Brad

    I agree with Tenebras, and “agree” with F.

  5. 5
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    A corpse is a thing.

    OK – substitute “Puppies for Christ,” where dogs are raised and slaughtered for people to savor on Thanksgiving.

    Any being you kill for your purposes then becomes a thing. A pretty sad attempt to avoid ethics.

  6. 6
    Brad

    An amount of food is a thing, regardless what it used to be.

    And puppies are not food in our culture. Did you get that puppies comparison from PETA?

  7. 7
    Alex

    Yes Brad, every comparison or argument you don’t like comes from PETA and can therefore be dismissed out of hand.

  8. 8
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    SC (Salty Current), OM :

    There’s nothing wrong, of course, with a religious organization donating things for our troops,

    Animals are not things. A turkey isn’t a thing.

    Once its meat it is, actually, I think.

    Alive its a living creature with a mind and will of its own that can feel, enjoy and suffer.

    Once its dead, its a body. Meat.

    In the turkey’s case often quite durn tasty meat at that.

    Humans like many other animals are carnivores and y’know what? That’s natural and fine as long as the animals like turkeys are treated okay in life & slaughtered humanely.

    ***

    As for this mock-charitable company, well they are despicable, disgusting and abhorrent scum. Doing dirty cruel tricks like that to avoid getting accidents on record and maske things seem other than they actually are, well, that would be called cheating that would.

  9. 9
    =8)-DX

    A corpse is a thing.

    OK – substitute “Puppies for Christ,” where dogs are raised and slaughtered for people to savor on Thanksgiving.

    The fact that we anthropomorphise pets (such as cats and dogs) and are more squeamish about killing them than other animals, because we consider them companions) has no bearing on the relative morality of eating different kinds of meat, nor does it have any bearing on the fact that dead animal tissue (just like dead plant tissue), is to all intents and purposes a thing (an inanimate object).

    If dogs were tasty, effective in producing meat and culturally (or gastronomically) accepted for consumption in the West I’d see no difference between raising puppies and raising turkeys for food.

    Problematic is how workers are treated in that company, although of course it would be also disturbing and wrong if they mistreated the animals they process as well.

  10. 10
    Reginald Selkirk

    This program is blasphemous. The word “Turkey” does not appear in the Bible.

  11. 11
    Avicenna

    So is this Free Turkey for Airmen or Salmonella for Airmen?

  12. 12
    hillaryrettig

    Turkeys are not things, and one thing this incidents illustrates is that people who will abuse and torment animals also tend to not treat people very well. See, also, Postville: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postville_Raid, which also happens to have a religious angle (Jewish this time).

    The rights and safety violations in slaughterhouse and meat packing plants are so egregious Human Rights Watch issued its first report ever on a US industry on that industry:

    http://www.hrw.org/news/2005/01/24/abuses-against-workers-taint-us-meat-and-poultry

  13. 13
    hillaryrettig

    >”Humans like many other animals are carnivores and y’know what? That’s natural and fine as long as the animals like turkeys are treated okay in life & slaughtered humanely.”

    The whole topic of what’s “natural” is murky, but in any case there are vast number of supposedly natural activities (like war, xenophobia, etc.) that most of us would abhor and vast numbers of supposedly unnatural activities we celebrate (like flight).

    And “humane slaughter” is as big an oxymoron as you can get.

  14. 14
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    The number of responses suggesting that once turkeys have been killed they’re things are based on either stupidity or disingenuousness. It should have been obvious that I was making a point about the morality of treating other animals like things in exploiting them for meat.

    Humans like many other animals are carnivores

    No, some people and cultures choose, or are compelled by circumstances, to consume (some) other animals. Others do not.

    and y’know what? That’s natural [fallacious thinking] and fine

    You know what? I disagree.

    as long as the animals like turkeys are treated okay in life & slaughtered humanely.

    You know what else? The vast majority exploited for meat are treated horribly in life. This is very well documented. You can read all about how turkeys are treated in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

    ***

    If dogs were tasty, effective in producing meat and culturally (or gastronomically) accepted for consumption in the West I’d see no difference between raising puppies and raising turkeys for food.

    Well, at least that’s consistently unethical.

  15. 15
    Chris Rodda

    Ummm … by “things” I meant any items that religious organizations donate. I wasn’t specifically referring to this one instance of the turkeys, which is why I used the general word “things.”

  16. 16
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Ummm … by “things” I meant any items that religious organizations donate. I wasn’t specifically referring to this one instance of the turkeys, which is why I used the general word “things.”

    Yes, I know. As I said, I was trying to make a larger point. Probably shouldn’t have related it directly to your post – I read it in a moment of anger.

  17. 17
    Draken

    Chris writes a gut-wrenching article about people forced to work with body parts amputated just hours ago- and you guys start discussing at length whether a dead turkey is a thing or not. I must have replaced ‘freethoughtblogs.com’ with ’4chan.org’ when typing the URL.

  18. 18
    mouse

    This company also has a terrible environmental record. Cheap turkeys are possible because they use our public resources to dump their waste, i.e. shit. This donation is offensive in so many ways.

  19. 19
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    SC, thank you for being you. And everyone else – well I hope you’re proud of yourselves. Celebrating the genocide of native americans by massacring poultry – quite fitting.

  20. 20
    ScottM

    I concur. SC, do you suppose you could address the point of the article?

  21. 21
    llewelly

    On the plus side, the ethical quandaries of eating turkeys have distracted us from another example of the abuse of children. Phew!

  22. 22
    unclefrogy

    things? WTF!

    I’ll bet you anything that this wonderful christian company donated money to the 2012 political campaigns on behalf of conservative causes and candidates. Those who are against taxes on the wealthy “job creators”, and for the reduction of “crippling government regulation” and is opposed to any immigration reform that would give any amnesty to those all ready here or sanctions for employers but would advocated arresting illegal immigrants because they are criminals, they are law breakers.

    “This holiday dinner has been brought to you by modern christian slavers ”

    uncle frogy

  23. 23
    lostintime

    =8)-DX:

    Problematic is how workers are treated in that company, although of course it would be also disturbing and wrong if they mistreated the animals they process as well.

    Well that’s a fair assumption considering 99% of turkeys in this country are subjected to extraordinary lifelong cruelty, and that artificial selection has made them so monstrous that they have to be ‘milked’ and ‘inseminated’ by farm hands, a job that is so horrific that Jim Mason describes it as being the most “hard, fast, dirty and disgusting work in my life.” The problem is not limited to individual farms, (although this one sounds particularly bad) but is an endemic part of the factory system where almost all turkey meat is produced.

    http://veggierevolution.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/working-in-turkey-insemination-factory.html

  24. 24
    evilDoug

    hillaryrettig,
    As I read Chris’s post, I thought of Rubashkin and Agriprocessors. I guess the US now has another “Judeo-Christian” thing.

  25. 25
    edmundog

    Children working 10 hour shifts? People forced to work with mangled arms? Dumping waste into our water? CLEARLY what this thread needs to be all about is that some people still eat MEAT, and that’s BAD. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find an article on female genital mutilation so I can make sure everyone talks about circumcision, then it’s off to a thread on sexism to make sure everyone knows that men wave it waaaay harder, and also affirmative action. I’d just hate to think that the internet’s not all about me.

  26. 26
    xmaseveeve

    I hate self-righteous, so-called animal ‘rights’ activists. No animal should suffer unnecessarily, ever, but you won’t force people not to eat meat. You holier-than-thous make vegetarianism a religion. It disgusts me. I used to be veggie but still got a hard time for eating eggs. I went back to meat. Yes, big juicy steaks and sausages!
    What about these slave children, new amputees forced to work on, to keep their jobs? Are you kidding me with the turkeys? Go fight for animal welfare inspections instead of trying to give people a guilt-trip for eating meat, you inhuman smug -Too angry to post.
    I’ve got about 20 fur coats too. Sue me.

  27. 27
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    You guys have some seriously misplaced priorities.

  28. 28
    Matrim

    @25

    Word.

  29. 29
    Pink No More

    So a post about an actual problem is hijacked by some of the worst people on this site, complete with the prerequisite oh-so-holier-than-thou “OMG WHAT IF IT WASN’T TURKEYS GUIZE?!?!” and “Thanksgiving is about native slaughter you guize!!111″ white-teenager-living-in-endless-privilege rants, and not everyone has the good sense to ignore the garbage and focus on the actual issue.

    For those who are encouraging the dismissal of these fools, though, I thank you. And for those who are abusing these comments as a sounding board for your self-righteousness, go back to Tumblr.

  30. 30
    lostintime

    edmundog:

    Children working 10 hour shifts? People forced to work with mangled arms? Dumping waste into our water? CLEARLY what this thread needs to be all about is that some people still eat MEAT, and that’s BAD

    I’m sure you know these social justice issues are all related to intensive farming. A Human Rights Watch report from 2005 documented the systematic abuse of workers in factory farms around the world, so it’s you who’s being myopic.

    http://www.newint.org/blog/2012/11/20/factory-farms-are-new-sweatshops/

    xmaseveeve:

    No animal should suffer unnecessarily, ever…

    I’ve got about 20 fur coats too!

    This made me laugh. You’re such an idiot.

  31. 31
    Chris Rodda

    The irony is that I’ve been a vegetarian myself for around 20 years, and it was actually an image in a PETA commercial that turned me off of eating animals. The thing is, it was a decision I made for myself because of something I saw. If I had had people trying to shove their beliefs about vegetarianism down my throat back then like the people here in these comments are doing, it would have had about as much effect on me as someone trying to shove their religion down my throat, and I’d probably still be a meat eater.

  32. 32
    lostintime

    If I had had people trying to shove their beliefs about vegetarianism down my throat back then like the people here in these comments are doing, it would have had about as much effect on me as someone trying to shove their religion down my throat

    I agree completely. There’s a fine line between browbeating and trying to discuss a topic honestly though, and pointing out that this is a much larger problem shouldn’t be offensive to anyone. To be clear, I think the abuse of workers in this factory is absolutely appalling and I’m glad it’s been raised on FTB.

  33. 33
    pipenta

    So help me I glanced at the headline and figured “Turkeys for Christ” was the name of some kind of evangelical or fundy group. And I thought, well, it’s not as snappy as “The Promise Keepers”, but it’s more accurate.

  34. 34
    baal

    For anyone in an oversight position, the outliers are the places where you need to place your attention. An incredibly good safety record is as worrying as a bad one. Even if you have the best protocols, the mere fact that there are sharp things around or that it’s a factory of anytime means that people will get injuries. Meat cutting in particular is well known for hazards and the repetitive use injuries are especially common there as well.

    4 and 5 year streaks of no issues? That’s the kind of management you’d want buying lottery tickets because they’d win every time. It’s giant red flag evidence that injuries are being covered up.

    “Seriously, this Mabe guy actually told the Observer: “Hispanics are very good with their hands and working with a knife. We’ve gotten less complaints,”
    /ugh – people are people. The actual differences between ethnic groups is largely trivial or has to do with very specific gene based physiology – Europeans on average are more resistant to alcohol intoxication, Subsaharan Africans are more likely to get sickle cell etc. Skin tensile strength, knee durability, knife slippage rates, ability to focus on a task etc. are not different and no amount of ‘hispanics are good with knives’ changes that.

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